Greetings and salutations, dear reader! back in the early 2000s to the mid-2010s, manga giant Shonen Jump’s biggest hits, or commonly referred to as the “big three” which consisted of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, and Tite Kubo’s Bleach.
The phrase “Big Three” originated from Western anime fandom that was used to denote those 3 titles I’ve mentioned above. Their popularity and extensive length meant they’re frequently featured on the cover of Shonen Jump Weekly, with shared covers often featuring characters from the three franchise. The Big Three also meant their respective titles concurrently airing at the time, and that dominated the market in terms of merchandise and presence.
So, if you were like me back in those early days and didn’t necessarily have the proper means to read or watch them legally, you would’ve eagerly waited for Fridays as that’s when (the now defunct) scannalators Mangastream would upload new chapters. Yeah, times were rough back then…
Anyways, as you fast forward to 2022, only one of the titles is still going, that being One Piece, as for Naruto and Bleach officially concluded in 2014 and 2016 respectively. While Naruto would continue on in successor/spin-off title Boruto: Naruto Next Generations (to mediocre success), and with Bleach getting an anime revival this year, aiming to officially conclude the series where the original anime was canceled (?) a decade ago.
Personally, I lean more towards Bleach, with Naruto and One Piece taking the 2nd and 3rd spot. With that said, here is why I think Bleach deserves your time more and what it’s all about.
This manga is a mishmash of samurai swordsmanship and supernatural elements were all concocted by the mind of Tite Kubo. The story of Bleach follows the exploits of one Kurusaki Ichigo, a teenager with the ability see spirits. On one seemingly ordinary night, Ichigo encounters the Shinigami (soul reaper) Rukia who’s trusted with ushering the souls of the dead from the World of the Living to the afterlife, and eradicate evil ones. While on patrol, Rukia is severely injured trying to defend Ichigo from Hollows (evil spirits), in an act of survival, she transfers some of her power into Ichigo thus transforming him into a Shinigami.
As the story progress, and with Ichigo’s power continue to grow, so does the threat as well. Fortunately, he is not alone in his adventures as his companions include: Uryu Ishida, the Quincy Archer, Orihime Inuoe, the healer, and Ichigo’s best friend Yasutora “Chad” Sado, the strong man.
Reasons Why You Should Watch
1. Story Arcs
Okay, okay, some story arcs in the series does slowdown the pacing of Bleach a little, but they are very rare. With the first few arcs started out strong with a balance of character development and action. It is the middle portion does it start to drag a little, a notable example is the Lost Shinigami arc (chapters 424 to 479). Thankfully, the arc doesn’t takes too long to finish and is a solid entry point for new comers.
2. Ichigo Takes Loses Like a Champ
Of the three protagonists in the Big Three, Ichigo may be the best, especially with Luffy’s loveable personality and Naruto’s underdog determinism. Ichigo is more of the straight man type, and that completely ok. But he more than makes up for it in his fights, and they sure as hell are entertaining. In each of his fights, there’s a level of unknown with him when he faces an opponent. You never really know for sure if he’ll win that fight.
When compared to a character like Naruto who rarely, loses, except to Sasuke… Ichigo on the other, takes plenty of loses, forcing him to the extremes to get the leg up on his opponent. His first major lost in the series to Byakuya Kuchichi which kickstarts the first major story arc. Other examples include his first encounter with Grimmjow, or against Ulquiorra which he lost to the point where his Hollow has to take over. Seeing out hero lose gives much needed drama.
3. Best Villain
One thing that Bleach sets itself apart from the Big Three vary early on is there’s a clear antagonist, or rather the big bad of the series (at least for the first part at least), and that’s Sosuke Aizen. This single man is solely responsible for at least 75% of the events that transpire in the series, a true mastermind from the shadows.
Sure there’s “Madara” from Naruto, but Aizen is a mastermind done right, one that truly outplayed everyone with his intellect. This man was so good that at being the villain that some fans wished the series would end after his defeat instead continuing on with the Quincy arc.
4. Fewer Face Turns
Okay, in wrestling, the term face turn is for when a villain switches to the heroes’ side, becoming a good guy (or anti-hero). In Naruto for example, face turns happen in nearly every major arc, be it Nagato or Obito being able to switch sides just by hearing a speech- This happens way to often in that series! When done correctly and sparingly, face turns can be great character development, like in the case of Nico Robin joining the Straw Hats crew in One Piece.
As for Bleach, the bad guys remain bad guys and generally stick to their conviction- whether you agree with them or not. Characters we’ve sympathize like Gin Ichimaru remained a villain even in death. For this, you gotta give credit to Kubo for not making his characters waver or lose resolve.
5. Cool Character Designs
This is one category Bleach excels at, and that character design. Kubo’s characters appear more mature when compared to the usual shonen stylings. This is very evident in Ichigo where he doesn’t look like pre-teen but a proper high schooler, same goes for the other human cast as well.
As for the Shinigami, each of the main cast of Shinigamis’ in the Gotei 13 that we’re introduced to have a very unique style that distinguishes themselves from one another. Add on with each of their Zanpakuto (swords), be it transforming into Shikai or Bankai state, making the iconic katana into a unique representation of wielder’s power in physical from. Characters such as Bakyuya or Hitsugaya come to mind.
As for the bad guys like Aizen’s Espada however, all of the adorn in white as oppose to the Shinigami’s black attire create an interesting juxtaposition of good and evil. Furthermore, their Resurrection forms are something to witness, Like Ulquiorra’s fallen angel transformation- The same can be said for the Quincies in the Thousand-Year Blood War arc.
6. Plot Twists Galore
Its fair game that all three series have plot twist sprinkled throughout like the true identity of Ace, or Tobi is actually Obito in One Piece and Naruto respectively. What sets Bleach apart however is that the twists aren’t so obvious. The twist that Aizen orchestrated his murder but making him out to be the main antagonist in part 1 was genius on Kubo’s part. Having him stripping of his “Clark Kent” persona into full on bad guy was epic!
Other moments in the series that worthy of praise are where Gin betrayed Aizen, and those moments in the final arc of the duality of Ichigo’s true power, or that Captain Unohana was the original Kenpachi.
As of writing this, 3-episodes of the Thousand-Year Blood War arc anime have aired, so if you’re a longtime Bleach fan, do yourself a favor and watch it. The quality of animation has greatly improved closely resembling that of movie, and the series has certainly matured much like the audience that once watched the series way back when. With the manga wrapped up years ago, fans can be assured that this time around that they’re be no filler seasons and solely focused on finishing the series in anime format. Although, this can be a good opportunity to expend of story elements that were unfortunately rushed in the manga.
Anyways, I’ve blabbed on long enough- go! Read, watch, stream this series if you’ve haven’t!